Why Use a CCTV Consultant

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If you are thinking of purchasing or updating CCTV and would like professional advice (most of which we provide free of charge) please go to our Buying CCTV section.

Only a few years ago, specialist consultants in CCTV were a rare breed and often associated with installation companies. Hardly the place to go for independent and unbiased advice. Now there are quite a number of consultants offering independent advice on many aspects of CCTV. As with all professions, the service provided and their ability varies from the mediocre to the very professional, knowledgeable consultant. For the purposes of this article, it is assumed that the need for CCTV has been established from a thorough analysis of all the options available to solve the particular problem or requirement.

The first question to ask is "do I need a consultant and why"? There could be many reasons such as the following.

I have obtained quotations from five installation companies, which vary greatly in cost. I would like advice on which one will satisfy my requirements.

This is quite a common problem, with most installation companies employing very professional sales people, but with varying degrees of technical knowledge. The customer is frequently unable to differentiate the jargon and hype from real facts. A day or two of a consultant's time may represent a tiny percentage of the potential cost but save much heartache later.

I am starting from scratch with no knowledge of CCTV and require advice based on my perceived needs.

This is a classic case for obtaining the best advice at the earliest stages of the project. The consultant should be prepared to analyse your problem and even propose that CCTV may not be the answer to the problems. If it is, then you should obtain a cost proposal for the various stages of consultancy described later.

I have a system installed by a national company, but feel that it is not providing the quality of pictures I expected.

This happens more frequently than people realise, one problem is that many customers just accept the fact and do nothing. Others are convinced by the installer that everything is up to current technology. I've even been told on more that one occasion that it was the customers' fault because he did not describe his requirements properly!

Here is just a selection of problems from my experience and it is surely just be the tip of the iceberg.

The complaint was that the pictures were poor and frequently deteriorated to just a mass of snow. The system consisted of seven fully functional cameras. The first problem was that the only possible transmission from remote cameras was by microwave. The areas viewed by the cameras were reasonable well lit, but the 1KM microwave beam passed over docks. During the winter the docks were prone to drifting fog and mist, the area was also subject to high winds and driving rain. Hence the varying picture quality. When this was explained to the customer, he accepted the limitations whereas the installer had stated that microwaves were immune to interference. Another problem was that the microwaves were mounted on very flimsy mountings with no vertical adjustment, so the other problems were aggravated by a significant amount of movement. One remote pole had two pan, tilt units, one microwave receiver and two microwave transmitters fitted. When the loading was calculated, it was over 50% above the safe load rating for the pole, even without wind loading. In fact, none of the poles supplied were suitable for mounting microwave transmitters or receivers. Then it became interesting!

There were seven cameras installed with Make 'A' 8-way telemetry transmitter. However, camera 7 was connected by a long-range microwave link that, at the time, could not transmit reverse telemetry. Therefore, a radio transmitter was installed for this telemetry link. It was found during installation the Make 'A' telemetry could not be transmitted along a radio link. The installers solution to this was to fit a Make 'B' one-way telemetry controller which was compatible. So now there are six cameras controlled by one controller and one by another! To view camera 7 it was necessary to connect the video output from 'B' as an input to the 'A' controller. To view and control camera 7 means selecting it on control 'A' and controlling it from 'B'!

I won't expand upon the problems with a SIT camera viewing street lights at night with an f-360 lens fitted!!

At times it was like scenes from The Sorcerers Apprentice, these are some notes during observing the system over two days:

Camera7, not working.
Camera 7, now working.
Camera 3, moved several times of its own accord.
Camera 7, not working.
Camera 2, washer operated of its own accord.
No telemetry control of camera 3.
Camera 7, now working.
No signal or sync pulse from camera 3.
No control over camera 7.

I felt that this customer had considerable cause for complaint, and they don’t come much larger than the company that installed the system at the time! The report was passed on to the installing company, and eventually most things were corrected including replacing all the poles for more substantial columns. The cost of remedial work was probably nearly as much as the original contract.

I have a CCTV system installed at a remote site with movement detection to transmit video when an intrusion is detected. I receive dozens of alarms but never a picture of an intruder.

This must one of the most common complaints and is always down to faulty design and selection of equipment. Sometimes it is down to bad selection and setting up of video motion detection systems. The other times it is down to utter stupidity in system design, this is where an incorrect passive infrared detector is used to trigger an alarm. I have visited three sites in the last two years where (for example) a PIR with a 50 Metre range and a beam angle of 70° is used in conjunction with a camera viewing 15 Metres with a 30° lens angle. No matter where an intruder arrives from, the PIR will trigger and transmit a frozen frame of nothing, every time. As in many other instances, the installing company had spent several months blaming equipment such as the telephone transmission. One argument put forward was that the transmission took too long to dial up and therefore lost the captured picture!

I have an existing CCTV system and feel that it is out of date and requires upgrading.

Asking many installation companies to respond to this type of enquiry is like giving them a licence to print money. For instance, you could find all the old wiring condemned then cameras, lenses, monitors, etc. It can be like that terrifying suck of the teeth when the engineer comes to look at your washing machine! A consultant can provide impartial advice on which parts of the system may need upgrading and most importantly, which parts can go on for years. Integrity test of the cabling is fairly straightforward to carry out. Isn't it strange that when you purchased the camera, CCD devices were indestructible, yet now of course, sensors do have only a limited life.

We are an installer and cannot get the customer to accept the system, can you assist?

I have been involved in this type of problem on many occasions and always start from the basic premise that I will produce a completely objective report without bias on either side. In every instance, the installer has been at fault, but often with a contribution from the customer asking for variations or additions to the original contract. In the latter cases, the installer accepted these without realising the implications. In two cases, the problem was the speed versus quality of phoneline transmission systems. In both cases, the customer had seen demonstrations of transmission systems down ISDN lines, but there were only PSTN lines to the premises. The differences had not been made clear to the customer during the demonstrations and the installer did not know that the customer had seen them. The problem originated in the quotations in which, the alternatives for transmission were not mentioned. Once the conflicting views were brought into the open, it was left to the customers and the installers to arrive at a compromise.

On another occasion, ten microwave receivers were mounted on a scaffold pole, resulting in an intermittent loss of video and telemetry. The solution here was obvious, but why had the installing company not spotted this? Probably because the system had been OK during the first six months of summer, but then the winter winds blew.


So, what are the benefits of employing an independent consultant?

Objectivity

One of the most important reasons for using the services of a consultant is to receive completely unbiased and objective advice. Most installing companies have preferred products for very sensible commercial reasons. It is natural therefore that they should present these in the best possible light. It can be very difficult for a customer to differentiate between the claims of competing salespeople.

Serving your interest

A professional consultant is employed by you and has no incentive to promote any particular product or system. Most consultants keep up to date on the performance of various products through experience with installations and trouble shooting. Not all products that appear equal to the layperson are necessarily so, the consultant can steer you away from products with a poor track record for performance or reliability. The pressure on the customer to differentiate between competing proposals is eliminated.

Saving your time

Most business people these days have little enough time to spare and will be directing their efforts into running and sometimes, the survival of their company. The old saying that time is money to the businessperson has never been truer; the cost of a consultant can frequently be repaid by the extra time released.

Saving you money

Most people have had experience of the wide variations in price between competing quotations for apparently the same specification. Unlike the purchase of machines or standard products, CCTV or access control systems are likely to be a new venture by many companies and local authorities. They simply cannot be expected to have the experience and detailed knowledge on which to judge differing proposals.

Peace of mind

Technology moves rapidly ahead these days, with many ways of increasing the effectiveness of both new and existing systems. Multiplex recording, video transmission, colour cameras, detection of movement, etc. are all very much more advanced than only one year ago. Even so, products with apparently similar specifications to the layperson can differ dramatically in actual performance under particular circumstances. This is especially true today in the case of digital recording and so called digital cameras. Here again, objective advice can be invaluable in the selection of the right equipment for the job.

Selecting a CCTV consultant

The best starting point would be by referral from an associate or contact who has used the consultant for a similar project. Alternatively you could approach a trade association. Whatever route you take to find a consultant or list of consultants, you should then establish the following main criteria.

  1. Ask for descriptions of projects undertaken for a similar project to yours.
  2. Obtain a statement that they are completely independent of any manufacturer, supplier, or installer of CCTV or associated equipment. In addition, that they receive no payments or commissions of any kind from any such company.
  3. Ask for references from three companies for whom they have carried out similar consultancy, always take up the references.
  4. Ask for examples of scale layout drawings for other projects.
  5. If the project encompasses a start to finish consultancy, ask for examples of project planning charts and documentation.
  6. Ask for an example of a system schematic diagram.
  7. Ask for an example of a spreadsheet analysis of tenders or quotations for a similar project.

Having these documents, you will have a feel for the level of professionalism they apply to a project. These days there is no excuse for a consultancy not to have as a minimum, a CAD system, a project planning system and the usual word processing and spreadsheet programs. They should also be able to produce budget costings for a proposed system in their preliminary report.

Finally, you must agree the fee structure and basis for payment. It is important to enumerate the tasks that the consultant should undertake and the associated costs. The following table lists some suggested headings and structure of a fee proposal. This, of course, can be varied to suit a particular project and scope of work. It does though provide a formal basis for agreement, and if necessary, variations to the contract due to unknown circumstances that may arise during the project. This would be especially important if you intend to obtain competitive tenders for consultancy. It means that all tenderers compete on a level playing field.

A list of independent security consultants, covering all aspects of security, can be obtained from:

The Secretary
Association of Security Consultants
42 Amis Avenue
New Haw
Addlestone
Surrey
KT15 3ET
Phone 07071 224865
Fax 01932 345033

Or visit www.securityconsultants.org.uk



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Read on: Why Use a CCTV Consultant - part 2

This chapter is supplied by Mike Constant and was originally published in CCTV Today. Mike is the author of 'The Principles & Practice of CCTV' which is generally accepted as the benchmark for CCTV installation in the UK.